The "Real Deal" Blog

What I’ve been up to…

May 3rd, 2008

Well, I managed to miss the whole month of April on this blog, so I thought I'd post an update for those of you who follow it.

My own path has been moving further from remodeling and toward woodworking, cabinetry, and now furniture.

(I have a mental hierarchy in my mind that goes like this: trim carpentry graduates to cabinetmaking, which is below furniture building. Then at the top is musical instruments or maybe the “arrow carver”?? See Cole Porter on that one.)

Anyway, I'm in that transitional phase between cabinetry and furniture. Here's a piece I built recently. This was not a completely solo effort, but it was mostly my baby.

Furniture-style vanity

The other big development, and somewhat related, has been the recent opportunity to go deeper with CNC-based woodwork and design. (Translation: programming a robot to do lots of your work for you.) For good or ill, this is the future. Hopefully in future entries you'll get to see some work created on this machine.

Why Pros Cut All the Trim at Once

March 15th, 2008

crown-pieces-ready-for-joining.JPGShort answer: Because the room (or woodwork) doesn't change dimension just because you put up the first piece of trim.

When I apprenticed with an aged cabinetmaker and trim carpenter, I learned how to do it the slow way. It made sense to me at the time. It doesn't anymore.

For starters, the old way takes a lot of walking. I like walking, but not while wearing a toolbelt.

So, instead, I make all the measurements and record them in my proprietary shorthand (which has become increasingly complex over the years). Then I'm off to the saw to do all the cutting at once.

crown-chains-ready-to-install.JPGOther benefits of this approach are:

  • Better optimization of the trim sticks: Start by cutting the longest ones and you'll probably get more useful pieces out of your stock.
  • Full concentration on cutting. This is especially important on crown, which is traditionally cut upside down and backwards.
  • Join pieces before hanging them for better joints. (See image at right.)

Cupola: the Mis-named Medieval “Budget Lookout”

February 13th, 2008

Why “mis-named”?

Because cupola means a dome, kind of like a cup that has been turned over on the top of a roof. When is the last time you saw a house with a domed cupola on its roof. Please send me a picture if you have.

The fact is that 99.9% of residential cupolas aren't cupolas at all. But at some point, I guess history must to allow the cupola definition to expand, even if it's the opposite of the original meaning. It's like what noted linguist K.D. Harrison says: There's really no such thing as bad grammar in an adult, since the only way we have of defining the grammar for a particular micro-culture is to look at how the adults in that culture use words. If they use words in contradictory ways, it's interesting, not incorrect.

Why Medieval?

Based on the fact that the Italians, where the word used for our modern “cupolas” originated, didn't get involved in dome-building until after 1000 AD, it's safe to assume this wasn't used residentially until the High Middle Ages.

Why a “Budget Lookout”?

Because you wouldn't need to put a cupola at the peak of a roof if you could afford to build a stone tower to keep tabs on your fiefdom.

Learn more about this fascinating architectural feature by watching my cupola video.

Small-Kitchen Storage Idea: Custom Wood Pantry

January 4th, 2008

custom-sized-pantry.JPGIf you have outgrown your small kitchen but can't afford a major upgrade (a new house or a full kitchen/cabinet remodel), then this idea is for you.

Friends of mine had the same problem, and they solved it by adding this cleverly-designed, custom pantry unit in a (previously) useless area of the kitchen.

expanded-kitchen-storage.JPGWhen you open it up, you are immediately jealous of the immense amount of storage that this crazy thing contains. There are shelves on the outer doors, then you realize that there are also shelves on a tricky set of inner doors. Then you swing those out and a very beefy set of additional shelves is revealed against the back wall of the cabinet. And because it was custom, it is sized to take advantage of the entire nook where it was built. Every inch.

As you can see, they aren't filling this thing up yet, but with five children it won't take long.

Here's the catch. … finish Small-Kitchen Storage Idea: Custom Wood Pantry

Rethinking the Home Office

December 20th, 2007

Have you ever had this thought: “Maybe someday we'll all do our work from a Lazy-Boy!”

The idea of doing all my work from a reclined dentist chair sounds like paradise. Over the years I've made a lot of improvements to the ergonomics of my own home office, but — due to logistical and cost constraints — I still do my work sitting upright in an office chair. While I don't have any pains resulting from this arrangement, I've always sensed that leaning back — or even laying down — would allow a more relaxed, free-flowing type of office environment.

And now, vindication has arrived in the form of a recent study by Scottish and Canadian researchers: … finish Rethinking the Home Office

General Contracting — a Promising Field for Women?

December 12th, 2007

I recently heard it said that, in another 20 years, we will see a vast number of Hispanic General Contractors due to the fact that they will have a natural connection with the vast majority of subcontractors, who will increasingly be Hispanic. One weakness of this prediction is that it's unclear whether there will be many Hispanic GCs who can make a genuine connection with the typical homeowner.

Time will tell.

But here is my prediction: We will see a much greater number of female GCs in 20 years. Here's why: … finish General Contracting — a Promising Field for Women?

Four Feelings that Drive Kitchen Remodels

December 10th, 2007

Generally it is feelings not functionality that motivates a kitchen remodel. Here are the ones that make it happen:

… finish Four Feelings that Drive Kitchen Remodels

Kitchen Cabinet Bids: the Nickel and Dime Game

November 30th, 2007

In my experience the following is a common scenario:

Katy Kitchen is ready for a remodel. She heads out for a day of planning and decision-making.

Stop #1 is a warehouse home-improvement store. Katy spends an hour with a kitchen designer and comes away with a price estimate for her cabinets and counters.

Stop #2 is a small, locally owned kitchen and bath showroom. Katy spends 1-2 hours with a kitchen designer and comes away with a price that's 10% higher than the warehouse store price.

Seems like Katy will get the best deal by going with the big store's offer, right?

Probably Not! … finish Kitchen Cabinet Bids: the Nickel and Dime Game

Keep on the Sunny Side of Remodeling, Part II

November 27th, 2007

It's really, really easy to become negative late in a remodel. Or at least to become hardened.

Somewhere along the way, someone or something is likely to take the wind out of your sails.

  • Starting into your 3rd month of being without a kitchen.
  • The floor guys who took you seriously about “helping themselves to whatever's in the fridge” and ended up eating that expensive ice cream you brought back from Europe.
  • The paint guys who tracked tar(??) across your rug.
  • The GC who swears they did everything they could to flatten the saggy floor, though you're skeptical there was any change at all.

It's easy to become jaded, but you shouldn't. Here's another reason why.

Many of the professionals with whom you'll be interacting (even late in the project — like the cabinet and counter installers) have chosen to do what they do because it makes them happy. This means that they've made an emotional decision about their work. And this means that — though they may still be able to do a competent job — they need your enthusiasm to be at their best. … finish Keep on the Sunny Side of Remodeling, Part II

Avoid the “Arched Dormer” Faux Pas

November 18th, 2007

Thanks to the internet, self-educated homeowner-remodelers are getting more and more sophisticated.Dormer Essentials Video

In fact, thanks to the high velocity of change in the construction industry and the ease with which things can be researched (if you know what you're doing), a homeowner can go into a meeting with a GC (general contractor) knowing more about some narrow topics than the GC does. … finish Avoid the “Arched Dormer” Faux Pas


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What I’ve been up to…

Why Pros Cut All the Trim at Once

Cupola: the Mis-named Medieval “Budget Lookout”

Small-Kitchen Storage Idea: Custom Wood Pantry

Rethinking the Home Office

General Contracting — a Promising Field for Women?

Four Feelings that Drive Kitchen Remodels

Kitchen Cabinet Bids: the Nickel and Dime Game

Keep on the Sunny Side of Remodeling, Part II

Avoid the “Arched Dormer” Faux Pas

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